LOS ANGELES -- Legalizing marijuana is gaining traction in many places but apparently not in California, the state where the idea first took root.
A national Gallup poll recently showed support for legalizing pot had reached an all-time high of 50 percent. Behind such momentum, marijuana advocates have succeeded in getting initiatives qualified for the upcoming November ballot in Colorado and Washington.
The USC/LA Times poll found California voters overwhelmingly support doctor-recommended use of marijuana for the severely ill, with about 80 percent in favor of medical marijuana for the terminally ill and severely disabled.
The San Francisco Bay Area was the only region in the state where a majority – 55 percent – favors legalization. That compares with 41 percent in Southern California.
Those against marijuana use were more adamant in their position, with 42 percent feeling "strongly" about it compared with 33 percent for proponents.
Twenty-eight percent of Republicans and 50 percent of Democrats polled liked the idea of marijuana legalization. Sixty-eight percent of Independents favor it.
Age also was a factor. Fifty-eight percent of those in their late teens and 20s support legal recreational use while just 28 percent of those older than 64 approve general use.
While California allows medical marijuana, it leaves the regulation of dispensaries where the drug is dispersed to local communities. In some places, the proliferation of dispensaries has angered citizens and prompted federal authorities to shut down some. The U.S. government does not allow legal use of medical marijuana.
The poll numbers suggest Californians are concerned about implementation of the Compassionate Use Act, the medical marijuana law passed by voters in 1996, according to Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.
"They like the idea of providing marijuana for medical use, but they're worried that the law is being abused," he said.
Dale Gieringer, coordinator of the state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said California needs to better regulate medical pot distribution before the public will embrace general use.
"Voters are hesitant to liberalize the marijuana laws any further until the chaos of the current system is worked out," he said.
The statewide telephone poll of 1,002 registered voters was conducted May 17-21. The margin of error is 3.5 percentage points.